Friday, December 12, 2008


This is a very well-written but rather minor novel. It's also tiresomely overwritten in places, with characters commanding rhetorics far beyond their years. While reading it I frequently asked myself, How can a novel this short be this boring? The answer: Musil 'tells' us too much instead of 'showing' us the characters' psyches via observed actions. There's also a certain desultory quality in the narrative structure that drains away intensity. Musil takes about 40 pages, for example, to reach the point at which the book should have begun. But there are consolations in the book: some passages of prose-poetry are quite impressive; and the final interview scene, in which each of the instructors attempts to enlist Torless's thoughts into his own weltanschauung while Torless resists and insists upon the individuality of his experiences (and is consequently drummed out of the institution), is a nice bit of Musilean irony.

A personal note: Upon beginning this book I remembered reading it once before but could recall absolutely nothing about it. I now believe that this must be because I hadn't actually read it. I must have abandoned it after a few pages back in the autumn of 2001, a time when national hysteria rendered the goings-on at an Austro-Hungarian boys' school rather beside the point...(Or maybe the novel's juvenile martial setting cut a little too close to the post-9/11 bone.)

No comments: